Church of England Diocese of Lichfield Astley

Church History

Astley is a small village in the Borough and Liberties of Shrewsbury and from the time of the Anglo-Saxons until 1860 the church was a chapel to the Collegiate Church of St Mary in Shrewsbury. At the Danegeld Survey (circa 990 AD) the parish was calculated to be 3 hides in size. At the Domesday Survey (1086) St Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury held 3 hides in “Heslie”. It was further recorded that “a priest with 9 villagers and 2 smallholders has 3 ploughs; a further 2 ploughs would be possible; woodland for fattening 50 pigs. The value was 20s now 25s.”  Although the mention of a priest indicates the presence of a church building in Astley before the Norman Conquest there is no evidence of any church building of that period. Eyton, in his “Antiquities of Shropshire” suggests that, as Astley Church was a church in which baptisms were celebrated, it was therefore in no “low subjection to St Mary’s”.

During the 12th and 13th Centuries, Haughmond Abbey owned more and more land, and the Manor of Astley, owned by St Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury, blocked the Abbey’s expansion to the North.

At the dissolution of the Chantries in the reign of Edward VI the land at Astley was leased for 21 years to Robert Clyve “one of the Clerks of the Checker with the King’s Majestie.” In the reign of Elizabeth I the land was given to the Corporation of Shrewsbury for the benefit of Shrewsbury Schools. The Governors of Shrewsbury Schools became patrons and frequently the Minister of Astley was the Under-Master of Shrewsbury Schools. The Governors ceased to be Patrons of Astley in 1986.

Dean Cranage in his “Architectural Survey of Shropshire Churches” states that the chief item of interest in the church is the blocked South doorway of the transitional period (1173 -1273). The dripstone is moulded in the Norman manner and has a series of rudimentary dog-tooth ornaments upon it. Over this doorway can be seen evidence of a porch. The outside South wall also contains a series of indentations which tradition says were made by men sharpening their swords and arrowheads. The small window by the South doorway has the date 1586 carved on the tracery outside.</span>

The East wall was built in the decorated period (1300–1400) and contains stained glass which was was made in 1849 by David Evans, a famous stained glass artist in Shrewsbury at the time, and paid for by John Bishton Minor of Astley House, who was Chapel Warden at the time; the stone tracery surrounding the window was paid for by Shrewsbury School in lieu of tithes to St Mary's, Shrewsbury. The three panels depict King Edgar, St Michael and St Catherine. King Edgar founded St Mary’s, Shrewsbury, which church has chapels dedicated to St Michael and St Catherine. We are currently seeking funding to restore this window.

In the chancel is a square-headed door which dates from the Elizabethan period. The Western end of the North wall may be from the decorated period.

The church tower was built in 1837. It seems likely that the bell was moved from a small housing over the main roof to this tower at that time (the watercolour above of 1786 in the Shropshire Archives shows this housing and the porch referred to earlier). It has subsequently been discovered that this bell is perhaps the oldest one in Shropshire, having been cast (most probably on site) by the firm of Blank in 1270.

The church was restored in 1883 because the roof was leaking. The roof was repaired, although there are remnants of the medieval beams in the roof. A new heating system was installed and it was also decided to convert the pews to open seats and to pull down the gallery.

In 1918 a public meeting decided to install a new church clock as a war memorial and the Memorial Tablet was unveiled on 14th August 1919. The old medieval clock was given to the Shrewsbury Museum, but it is not there now; according to tradition, this clock originally came from St Mary’s, Shrewsbury and was the one referred to in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I “fought a long hour by Shrewsbury clock.” 

The rood screen, altar and reredos, and the re-ordering of the chancel were carried out in the 1930’s and were designed by Sir Charles Nicholson.

In November 2010 a survey by John Taylor & Co Bellfounders found that the ancient bell was being worn internally by the original rudimentary clapper, and externally by being struck by the heavy clock hammer. A second bell of similar size and tone was procured for the clock to strike on, and grants were obtained from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Shropshire Council Local Joint Committee, Astley Parish Council and local firms; on 23rd November 2011 both bells were removed to the foundry for conservation and repair and were returned on 6th March 2012. The original bell has been named "Mary" (from the church) and the second bell "Elizabeth" in honour of H M the Queen's Jubilee in that year.

In 2015 a major restoration was undertaken of the east wall and window; a steel tie was introduced to the chancel truss to prevent further spread of the north and south walls and the stained glass was removed for restoration by Denis Holgate of Rocester, Nr Utoxeter; whilst the glass was away the external stonework of the east wall was repaired and the glass was returned in Spring 2016. The chancel and sanctuary were redecorated at the same time. Grants were provided by The Woolfson Foundation in association with ChurchCare, The Shropshire Historic Churches Trust, The Shropshire Council Local Joint Committee, Astley Parish Council and local firms, together with a large legacy. 

In 2018, with the assistance of a grant from The Churches Conservation  Trust,  the remaining hard cement pointing of the exterior walls was replaced with the correct lime mortar mix, to prevent further deterioration of the Grinshill sandstone of the main building.